Schools and educational institutions were among the first to pay the price of the closures and social restrictions the public has experienced around the world in the past year and a half, while governments have been battling the corona plague. From China, then Italy and Spain, the phenomenon of closing educational institutions around the world has expanded, and at the same time the authorities have been shown how critical their regular functioning is. More than 120 countries have suspended their studies due to the Corona epidemic, according to UN data. In many countries, it also opens just at the beginning of a new wave of corona, which is now driven by the contagious delta mutation.
Several leading countries in the world have already opened the gates of educational institutions, and if there is no last-minute change, the school year in Israel will also open next week.
Different countries are taking various measures in order to curb the epidemic, ranging from vaccinating boys and girls over the age of 12 (and pressure to approve the vaccine to younger ages as well), wearing masks, keeping distance, keeping capsules, alongside mass testing.
“Globes” presents the situation in some countries that have already returned to school, and some that are preparing to do so, as in Israel, next week.
Germany: Speed tests in schools two or three times a week
In some of the district states in Germany, schooling has already resumed, in a special format that takes into account the danger of the spread of the corona plague but also the fact that a large part of the population has been vaccinated. In most countries, children of all ages are required to wear masks in the classroom and also to maintain a distance between and between the desks, as was the case at the beginning of the previous school year. However, some county states have stated that these measures will be in effect “only in the first few weeks of the year,” and while examining the morbidity trend.
In Berlin, one of the first countries to return to school about two weeks ago, authorities are conducting three rounds of rapid corona tests in the first three weeks after returning to school, due to fears that some children come straight from holidays abroad and may be ill. The first of the second grade children in the city includes performing the rapid corona test on themselves, including inserting a nasal stick, insertion into a solution, dripping in the designated place on the test and waiting 15 minutes for results.
Policies and preventive measures vary from place to place. In the state of Brandenburg, for example, only high school seniors will be required to wear a mask after the first two weeks of school, assuming there is no jump in morbidity. In the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, authorities use a test called a “candy test” – a stick with a stick at the end that children have to suck for thirty seconds (measured by the teacher), after which it is sent for a lab test that returns the results within hours.
In addition, teachers and principals across Germany were instructed to carefully ventilate the classrooms for long minutes every hour. Some German authorities have already purchased huge sums of industrial air purifiers, costing several thousand euros per device, capable of eliminating viruses by various means (including UV radiation). These purifiers replace and clean the air in the room, and are designed for use during the winter months when it will be difficult to open the windows for ventilation due to the weather.
As the preliminary data show, returning to school also involves an increase in the number of diagnoses in Germany, in part due to an increase in the number of tests. In Berlin alone, about 230 positive children were detected in the first week of the rapid tests – a rate of morbidity almost double that of the city before.
Now that the “fourth wave” of the corona plague has already begun to spread in Germany due to the Delta variant, according to the Robert Koch Institute, many parents are waiting to see if authorities change the preparedness prepared for the summer.
● Return to school: Depending on the state of the county, from early August to mid-September
● Morbidity rate: 81 cases per million inhabitants (upward trend)
● Adhesion coefficient: 1.38
● Full immunization rate: 58%
UK: No masks required, classes will not be sent for preventative isolation
Also in the UK, the territories that make up the United Kingdom have different policies from each other regarding preventive measures in schools. In Scotland, for example, teaching staff and students will be “encouraged” but not required to be tested on free speed tests twice a week, starting the week before returning to school in September. In contrast, there will be an obligation to wear masks in classrooms and corridors in schools, both for teachers and students, as well as to maintain a minimum social distance of one meter between desks and between teachers and students and between them.
In England and Wales, on the other hand, authorities are showing a softer approach, and they have put an end to “capsules” that have allowed only children from the same cycle to meet. Depending on the opening of the economy completely and the attempt to return to life as usual – the heart of the UK government’s policy – there is no obligation to wear a mask in schools (as there is no public transport or indoors, but many in the kingdom still do so on their own).
High school students in Scotland return to school without masks, this month / Photo: Reuters, Jane Barlow
One of the scenarios that England is trying to prevent in the current school year is the one where an entire class is sent to isolation following a single case of illness. Under the new laws adopted by the UK government (but only valid in the UK), a sick child who is located in a classroom will go into solitary confinement for at least ten days, but others will be able to perform a PCR test and if negative – they will not have to be isolated or avoid school. All this only about the children who were in a “close relationship”.
Another step is in the technological field. The government has announced the purchase of air quality meters – small devices that measure the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air, which can indicate a lack of air exchange. In contrast to Germany, where the authorities have purchased huge sums of industrial air purifiers capable of killing viruses, the British make do with relatively inexpensive devices, and call on teachers to monitor air quality and open windows if necessary. The teachers’ unions were the ones who demanded this from the government. The government will spend around £ 25 million on the purchase of 300,000 measuring instruments, it has been reported in recent days.
● Return to school: In Scotland, studies have begun; In England, Wales and Northern Ireland – next week
● Morbidity rate: 465 cases per million inhabitants
● Adhesion coefficient: 1.07
● Full immunization rate: 61
France: Studies in the method of traffic lights and capsules
French President Emmanuel Macron and the government were very careful not to shut down schools last winter, even at the cost of increasing morbidity. They used the obligation to wear masks, speed tests, class isolations and other measures to combat the spread of the corona, and Macron said it was an ideological position. “The epidemic cannot harm entire generations of children,” he said. Thus, at the height of the plague, university studies were suspended, but schools and kindergartens continued to operate.
Even now, the French government plans to return the children in full attendance to schools on September 2, regardless of their immune status and against the backdrop of another exciting wave on the country, this time of the Delta variant. Last month, the government unveiled a four-color “traffic light” program (green, amber, orange and red) that will ensure face-to-face education for all millions of students in France. It is currently estimated that children will return to second-level education at present (which still includes face-to-face education), but if they reach the red level, middle school and high school students will be forced to switch to online education half the time.
Children waving French flags in Paris, this month / Photo: Associated Press, Adrienne Surprenant
According to the current plan, the obligation to wear masks at this stage will be in the primary schools and above and “capsules” will be established that will be allowed to be together at the same time. The government will focus on classroom ventilation. She plans to perform at least 600,000 tests a week. In the case of Corona in a particular class, only the students who have not been vaccinated will yet be sent home for seven days of isolation. This is despite the growing evidence from Israel regarding the potential for infection of those who have been vaccinated in the past. In primary schools, teaching will continue face-to-face regardless of the disease state.
Contrary to the decision to require a health certificate in other areas, such as entering shops and restaurants or speeding, the government has made it clear that it will not require the presentation of a “health certificate” in schools. This is because schools should be “open to everyone,” as the health minister said.
● Return to school: 2 September
● Morbidity rate: 333 cases per million inhabitants
● Adhesion coefficient: 1.1
● Full immunization rate: 54%
Spain: Schools will open as usual ● Teaching staff will not be required to be vaccinated
In Spain, the government has made it clear in recent days that it will not change its readiness for resumption of studies despite the expected outbreak of the Delta variant. The government is trying to vaccinate as many teenagers as possible before the start of the year, but only six county states have currently approved vaccinating children over the age of 12, as has been done in Israel and the US for months. According to her estimates, by the beginning of the year about half of students over the age of 12 will be fully vaccinated.
Unlike neighboring Italy, Spain does not require teachers and teaching staff to be vaccinated. In Italy, this is an extension of the “green sign” that allows entry to enclosed spaces, travel by train and more. The government in Rome has decided that the mark will also be valid for schools (for adult staff), and teachers who do not present a vaccination or recovery certificate will be suspended after five days and will not be paid. In Spain, however, the health minister said an “absolute majority” of teaching staff has already been vaccinated – so there is no need for these sanctions.
Girl from Pamplona in northern Spain waiting in line for vaccination, July / Photo: Associated Press, Alvaro Barrientos
According to the new deployment, in Spain more than 25 students were allowed to study in classes, compared to a maximum of 20 students per class last year. In elementary schools, teachers will be allowed to teach in classes of up to about 30 students. Primary schooling will be allowed in “capsules”, meaning mixing between different classes will be banned in breaks, corridors and the yard. This is unless the morbidity rate drops significantly, and the move is eliminated.
In high schools, students will be required to maintain a distance of at least a meter from each other. All students over the age of 6 will need to continue wearing masks in class.
● Return to school: Second week of September
● Morbidity rate: 235 cases per million inhabitants
● Adhesion coefficient: 0.76
● Full immunization rate: 69%
USA: Political battles around back to school
The start of the US school year and preventive measures against the spread of the corona plague have in recent weeks become a scene of political and social struggle saturated with hatred and division, including clashes between parents. A fight between the state’s Republican governor, Ron de Santis, and several local authorities, which are now being investigated for disobeying his order to allow any child to avoid wearing masks in schools, and the Florida local government is threatening to prevent the transfer of budgets to local schools.
Studies across the country resumed about two weeks ago. The number of corona cases in Florida has recently broken records, and now stands at about 18,000 a day. 42,000 people have died in the country from Corona so far.
Students march to Florida school this month / Photo: Associated Press, Lynne Sladky
In several states in the southern United States, including Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas, the resumption of schooling was accompanied by significant outbreaks, and entire schools suspended schooling for two weeks or more after discovering dozens of corona cases a day. Positive students for Corona in the first two weeks of school, the New York Times reported.
The former head of the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), Dr. Richard Besser, said he estimated that despite vaccines in the older population, the spread of the Delta variant would result in “more school closures this year than last year.” Authorities are demanding not only the obligation to wear masks but also the obligation to be vaccinated among teaching staff, or bi-weekly tests if they want to avoid the vaccine.
In its latest recommendations, the CDC states that the Delta variant is the reason to recommend that all children over the age of two wear masks in kindergartens and elementary schools and above, as well as to teaching staff. He also recommends keeping a distance of at least one meter between the children. For teaching staff and boys and girls who have already been vaccinated (over the age of 12), the center recommends being tested three to five days after exposure to a verified patient, whether they have symptoms or not.
● Return to school: from the beginning of August, gradually
● Morbidity rate: 445 cases per million inhabitants (upward trend)
● Adhesion coefficient: 1.23
● Full immunization rate: 51%